“How can I get my church to worship?” This is a common question our WorshipU students ask. If you’re a worship leader, people will come into your church from all walks of life. Some may have been attending for years, but for those who haven’t, singing out loud to God in front of others may be a culture shock. Oftentimes a congregation needs to be taught how to worship and engage with God. A true worshipping heart is developed over time through experience—and your job is not only to lead people in worship but create a culture of worship by teaching your congregation what it is.
Here are five practical things a worship leader can do to help lead and teach their church how to worship.
1. Show them how Good the Water Tastes
We’ve all heard the phrase, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” No, we can’t make our congregations worship, but we can give them a taste of how wonderful it is. In John Piper’s book “Desiring God,” he says: “The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” This is centered around the idea that worshipping God and communing with God is the greatest pleasure this life has to offer. It’s not the carnal things that satisfy — it’s the presence of God that brings true joy and enjoyment to life.
Your hunger is contagious. When you give it all you’ve got on stage and hold nothing back, you are showing people what is available to them.
What you bring to the stage is a taste from the well that you’ve been digging off the stage. We can only lead people as deep as we have gone in the secret place. If you take time during your week to explore new territory with God, the ground you take with Him will be made available to the people you’re leading.
2. Build Connection From the Stage
As a leader, the greatest thing you can cultivate with people is trust. If a follower understands the heart of a leader, and the intent of a worship service, they will feel invited into a community rather than sitting in on a concert.
If they trust you, they’ll go anywhere you go.
An easy way to build connection from the stage is to just give a simple “Good morning” or “Hello,” or “How are you all today?” right before the worship starts. Perhaps the pastor does an opening welcome with everyone before worship gets started. If so, you can start by giving a quick “Let’s all sing this together,” just before the first verse starts. No matter when or what you choose to say, giving some sort of verbal cue that addresses the audience immediately breaks the barrier between stage and audience.
Another way to engage with your congregation is to be aware of the room. It might feel strange at first, but take moments to lead with your eyes open, to see how the room is doing. This is a way we can meet people where they’re at to invite them in deeper. Being aware of the room is important so that we don’t throw people into the deep end, but woo them in gently.
3. Create Space for Engaging with God
Rather than leading your church with pressure and fear, create an invitation for your audience to engage in so that they can choose to participate or not. What kind of breakthrough do you want to see happen in the room? Embody that on stage, and extend the invitation to the room.
For example, if you are leading a room in worship that doesn’t know how to express themselves outwardly, you can pause for a minute during the set and ask the crowd to do something physical, like close their eyes and lift their hands towards heaven.
This will create a safe environment for people to be vulnerable with God, because it breaks the fear of looking foolish when everyone in the room does it.
This may require you to let go of your guitar or instrument and embody what you’re asking them to do, while briefly explaining why you are doing this. You could say something like, “This is an outward sign of inward surrender and awe.”
But here’s the key: after you pick up your guitar again, you never told them to put their hands back down. You’ve led them to a place where they can choose to keep singing with arms raised or go back to how they were before. After a few months of similar invitations, your congregation will feel more comfortable expressing themselves during worship.
4. Establish the Foundation
No matter what style of church you go to, everyone has a value for the Word of God. And it’s amazing how expressive the Word of God is about forms of worship! All throughout the Psalms and even the New Testament, there are instructions to praise with singing, dancing, shouting, clapping, lifting hands, bowing, and more. These are actual physical expressions! Worship, according to the Bible, is not strictly a posture of the heart.
Worship is most often accompanied by outward expressions of faith. Obviously, God sees the heart of the person; but there are times when God expects a sincere heart to be evidenced with outward expression.
As a worship leader, you have the privilege of teaching your congregation when and where to find these expressions in the Bible and lead them into it.
5. Don’t Make Assumptions—Have Grace for People.
Last but not least: it’s not good to assume the church isn’t worshipping just because it doesn’t look like it. Remember, people are coming into church in the middle of work-life stresses, marital arguments, trying to get their kids into Sunday school, going to bed too late and waking up early, or any other myriad of reasons for having a bad day. They’re human, and even though God is worthy of our praise at all times, we don’t always feel like worshipping Him at all times.
Let’s have grace for people.
Create an atmosphere of peace that invites them to remember how good God is. When they can taste and see the pleasure of the Lord, they will want to drink of His goodness.
You can lead them to the water, and when it’s God’s water, they will definitely want to drink.